Friday, February 1, 2008

Chicago Festival of Maps, Day 1: Field Museum

On December 26 I caught the cartography bug when I went to the "European Cartographers and the Ottoman World, 1500–1750" exhibit at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. A few weeks later I started looking at the other exhibits in Chicago's Fesival of Maps, and decided I had to come back before they were gone. Having taken two days off work, I flew to Chicago on the night of Thursday, January 24. On Friday I got to the Field Museum when the doors opened at 9:00. Packed full of priceless milestones in the history of cartography, the exhibit was superlative both in quantity and quality. Here is the full list of pieces. I was completely overwhelmed by noon, yet I stayed until about 5:30; though my head was reeling, I just couldn't bring myself to walk away from it. Even so, I didn't get to see everything. In describing what I did see, I'll try to convey some of the magic I felt at the exhibit.

Text in red italics indicate questions for which I'm seeking answers. In other words, please help!

In Atlas des Groβen Kurfürsten (Atlas of the Great Elector)
Giovanni Antonio Magini, Italian
Printed maps, bound in leather and gold
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Map Department

As a maps newbie I don't know all the lingo yet, but I'm pretty sure that this first atlas is what cartographers refer to as "FRIGGIN' HUGE!!!". It weighs two hundred seventy five pounds. The covers, apparently slabs of wood, are bound in leather and gold, and have three metal clasps the size of a peanut butter sandwich. Each page is the size of a twin bed. It is spread open to a map of Italy entitled "NOVA DESCRITTIONE D'ITALIA DI GIOANN. ANTONIO MAGINO". The placard says that it was created in 1665 for Friedrich Wilhelm, the Duke of Prussia, by the seventeenth century's preeminent Dutch publishers, and that it hasn't been in the U.S. since the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, also in Chicago. Giovanni Antonio Magini died in 1617, so presumably this is an enlarged version of one of his maps.

After staring at this behemoth for a while, I noticed a few interesting things.

  • It has a thirty-two point compass rose with the fleur-de-lis that, by the seventeenth century, was standard. A line of script radiates outward along each rhumb line, but I can't make it out.
  • There's the "MARE TIRRENO", or Tyrrhenian Sea, but what's that up there by Genoa - "MARE LIGVSTICO"? With Grace's help I figure out that this means "Sea of the Ligures", the Ligures being an ancient people who lived in an area stretching from Northern Italy into southern Gaul. Oh look. I just looked up the Tyrrhenian Sea on Wikipedia, and there's the Ligurian Sea. I don't remember seeing that before. Drat. And I thought I was all smart knowing about the Tyrrhenian Sea.
  • The Adriatic is labeled "GOLFO DI VENETIA", which I also didn't recall seeing before. A bit of Googling confirms that this was the common name for it at the time. Given the longstanding rivalry between Genoa and Venice, I suppose that must have annoyed the Genoans to no end. Wikipedia says that Genoa helped fund Magini's "Atlante geografico d'Italia" (Geographic Atlas of Italy); I wonder if that one contained the reference to the Gulf of Venice.
  • Across the bottom of the map appear the names of regions of Italy: "ROMA VENETIA GENUA NEAPOLIS FLORENTIA MEDIOLANUM". That last one is the only one I didn't recognize. The Wikipedia entry says that Mediolanum is ancient Milan. Ah.

Route from London, England to Apulia, Italy
In Liber Additamentorum
Matthew Paris, English
Manuscript, ink and pigment on parchment
The British Library, London

Matthew Paris, the abbey chronicler at St. Albans, made a visual itinerary of the route from London to Apulia, on the heel of Italy, from which pilgrims could travel by sea to the Holy Land. I now know that during the exhibit I was reading the map wrong; the journey starts at the lower left of the page at 'pons Lond' and progresses upward through each successive column to the right. Each of the two pages on display is split into three columns. There's a charming simplicity to the schematic: my first reaction was that the buildings were very crudely rendered; my second reaction, hard on the heels of the first, was that Paris had quite skillfully reduced those buildings to their simplest identifying characteristics, thus making it easy for a pilgrim to verify his position with a glance. The way in which Paris distills his structures almost to pictographs reminds me of the image of Mont Saint-Michel from the Bayeux Tapestry. Come to think of it, since Paris made his itinerary in about 1252, there's no reason to think the Bayeux Tapestry didn't influence his compositional choices.

Take a look at the large image on this Collect Britain page. See the wavy bit just below the middle of the right edge? Those waves kept drawing my eye; something about the curving flourishes of the brush strokes reminds me of this ninth-century painting of Saint Matthew. Since there seemed to be a building sitting on top of them, though, I came to think that those waves were actually a mountain, and that led me to further investigation.

Road from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto
Tokaido bunkensu (An artistic map of the Eastern Sea Road)
Unidentified mapmaker, Japanese
18th century
Manuscript, ink and pigment on paper, mounted on silk
Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The only image I could find online was inside the virtual version of this same exhibit. Go to the first virtual room and click the arrow in the middle of the screen. This will give you a fairly decent taste of the map, although it doesn't show the lovely mountain with the hazy grey halo that accentuates its snow cap. Engagingly animated clouds roll across the lowlands between the lake and the mountain, and pink-topped grey hills huddle around its base. Orange brush strokes accentuate the grass in and around the lake. The sky is a study in the interplay between white, and a grey that's evocative of charcoal: here the greyness gives a cloud its brooding heart; there it forms a background for a cloud of white. Grey hilltops poke up through the nothingness in the distance. A few white-topped mountains, each one sticking up through a cluster of grey-topped hills, dominate the mid ground. The artist clearly wanted this to be not only beautiful, but functional as a road map; details such as trees atop boulders, houses, streams, and bridges fill the roadside, as do descriptive labels. Streaks of rain shroud part of the path near the lake. Small clusters of yellow and red - perhaps flowers, perhaps birch leaves - dot the path here and there. A tiny red Shinto shrine catches my eye, which keeps coming back to those playful clouds that roll along just like the sheet of clouds I saw rolling in over the mountains along route 280 south of San Francisco.

The placard says that this is the Tokai Road that was used during the Edo period (1602-1867) as a link between the Emperor in Kyoto and the Shogun in Edo, thus forming a link between Japan's symbolic and military leadership. The sixty-foot map, here rolled at both ends so that only a fraction of its length is on display, depicts the entire three hundred miles of the road.

Road network of the Holy Roman Empire
Das Ist der Rom Weg (This is the way to Rome)
Erhard Etzlaub, b. Erfurt (now Germany)
Printed map
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Rosenwald Collection 1943.3.1448

Here is a good summary of the Rom Weg map, and here is a German page with an astonishingly high-resolution scan of the entire woodcut. If you're like me, the first thing you have to wrap your brain around is the orientation. See Denmark on the bottom and Rome on the top? It follows something like the opposite of our modern "north on top" convention. Of course, it's also distorted, almost certainly due to the cartographic inaccuracy of the time, and probably also because Etzlaub wanted to cram in as much as he could. Look at Italy and it seems like the landscape is rotated so that south is actually at about ten or eleven o'clock; look at the coast of Flanders and it would seem that south is at about one o'clock.

I'm absolutely tickled to have found such a good reproduction. Still, it's a perfect example of what I always say: No reproduction can compare to being in the presence of the original. That scan doesn't show you the rich, rough texture of the paper. It can't show you the deep woodcut impressions, clearly visible even under the dim exhibit lights, so it cannot bind you; you don't stand transfixed, visualizing the arms that turned a crank over five centuries ago and pressed the woodcut into that paper hanging inches from your nose.

The placard says that 1500 was a Jubilee, or special year of pardon, so Christians from all over Europe traveled to Rome; it also mentions that the distance between each one of the little circles on the map is 4.5 miles. Look for dotted lines and the pilgrimage paths converging on Rome from all over Europe jump out at you. Etzlaub accentuates Nuremberg in a way that kept drawing my eye back to it; I just found out that he was a Nuremberg citizen, which helps explain that. I see Seelande (Zeeland) over on the right edge and think of all the trouble that Philip II caused there half a century after that crank turned. The charm of this map lies in the way the artist not only knew the limitations of his instrument - in this case the wood - but actually turned those limitations to his advantage. Looking at the jumbled representations of Venice and Rome, I'm reminded of the way Johnny Cash used the tremolo in his ravaged voice on the American Recordings albums; those crooked spires draw my eye, enticing me with fairy tale glory.

What is that ring of mountains around Prague? I swear that they were labeled "Budweis" on the Mercator projection from 1569, but I didn't write it down and now I'm not sure that the label didn't refer to the city of Budweis rather than those mountains. That's something I'll have to look for when I see the exhibit again in Baltimore.

Route of a Vietnamese embassy to China
Unidentified mapmaker, Vietnamese
18th century
Manuscript, ink and pigment on paper
Société Asiatique, Paris

The placard says that the kings of Vietnam's Le Dynasty (1428-1788) wanted to consolidate control, so they mapped key military and commercial routes. This map shows the road and the river from above as intertwining red and yellow strips. The grey mountains flanking them, however, appear in profile; those on the top of the map point upward, and those on the bottom point downward. They show the features along the road, as seen from each side of the road! This technique of coupling each segment of an overhead perspective to a corresponding profile is not unlike what Waghenaer did in the late sixteenth century; his maps show a coastline's contour along with its distinguishing features as seen from offshore.

Family vacation map
Gallup’s Transcontinental Map of the United States,
Canada & Mexico
Gallup Map Company for the Keystone Automobile Club
circa 1930
Printed map with handwritten annotations
Private Collection

This charming memento has colored lines drawn by a family to record their vacations of 1934-38.

Road map of England and Wales
Angliae totius tabula cum distantiis notioribus in itinerantium usum
accomodata (Map of All of England, with the Most Important
Distances, Adapted for the Use of Travelers)
John Adams, English
Printed map, hand colored
Private Collection

Click the small image on this page to get a sense of this enormous map.

Darn it! I wrote the wrong date in my notes. I was all excited to be seeing a map made in 1667; I found Chatham and imagined this being printed as Samuel Pepys wrote his 12 June diary entry about the Dutch cutting the Royal Charles out of the dockyards there the previous day! Oh well. The map was still contemporary with Pepys.

The placard tells the map's story: A Shropshire* fish merchant grumbled to a friend about the guesswork in calculating distances and travel times from his fisheries to nearby markets. The friend happened to be cartographer John Adams, who measured and plotted the road distances! I don't think this sentence is supposed to be taken literally, because it would take one man a hundred years to measure the roads linking the twenty four thousand points in his gazetteer. Oh, it's so gratifying to stand in front of this. I look at "Torr Kay" and "Torr Bay" and think of the Spanish Armada sailing by them in early August of 1588, the English fleet under Howard, Hawkyns and Drake close behind - but not close enough for their innovative gunnery to do the Spaniards' hulls any significant damage. I find Tilbury and think of the famous speech Elizabeth made as the Armada buggered off into the North Sea - a speech that most likely bears little resemblance to the accounts that weren't written until decades later, and most certainly belied her heinous disregard for the sailors in her navy, whom she allowed to die in squalor, disease and hunger rather than paying them for their service. I see "Marget" (Margate) and wonder again at the vain faith that allowed Philip II to think that Medina Sidonia and Parma would actually be able to meet there.

*Woo hoo! Because I took the time to memorize the historic counties of England, I know where Shropshire is! Note to self: It's not on the west coast, dumbass!

Mercator’s projection
Nova et aucta orbis terrae descriptio ad usum navigantium
emendate accomodata (New and Accurate Description of the
Terrestrial Globe, Amended to Suit the Uses of Navigation)
Gerard Mercator, Flemish
Printed map
University Library Basel, Switzerland

Mercator's projection was profoundly important to navigation because it allowed mariners to plot a compass bearing as a straight line. The Wikipedia article has a good image of the map and a good explanation of the projection. This page has a larger image. The version of the map in this exhibit, split horizontally into three long individually framed strips, has a greater preponderance of decorative elements than the one-piece version.

My favorite aspect of this map is the ships proudly plying the oceans - ships with extremely tall castles both fore and aft. Since this map was published just nineteen years before the Spanish Armada, I feel like I'm looking with twenty-twenty hindsight at an unwittingly portentious capsule of history. Come to think of it, 1569 was a particularly formative year in the demise of those castles, because that was when Drake and Hawkyns met with "Spanish treachery" at San Juan de Ulúa. They made it back to England and spent the next few decades "singeing Philip's beard": in the words of David Howarth, "Hawkyns created the new kind of ship, and Drake created the way of commanding it." The revolutionary "race-built" English ships, with their razed castles, and the revolutionary method of putting a mariner rather than a soldier in charge of those ships, did more than surprise the commanders of the Spanish Armada in 1588; they established a new era in which England was to dominate the seas. The Armada dispelled the charm of those tall castles, so I'd be willing to bet that, before the end of the sixteenth century, they would be much less likely to appear on maps. I'll find out soon enough if I'm correct, but if someone more learned than I would care to confirm or refute this assertion, I'd be grateful.

By the latter part of that same century it was not uncommon for a map to include elaborate metal clasp-like structures in and around the cartouche. One of the most striking things about this map, though, is the preponderance of metal clasps in all the printed decorative elements. It's as though the engraver wasn't content to let his metalworking skill speak for itself in the fine, crisp lines of the print; no, he wanted to infuse the print itself with metalwork!

A few indicators of the cartographic sensibilities of the time:

  • India says "INDOSTAN", and the southern U.S. says "INDIA"!
  • Mexico says "Hispania nova".
  • England says "Anglia".
  • "Pars continentis avstralis" was still part of a massive southern continent.
  • The large northern continent, split by four rivers, formed a ring around a polar sea.

Cordiform projection
Cosmografia universalis ab Orantio olim descripta (Universal
cosmography as Described by Oronce)
Giovanni Paolo Cimerlini, Italian
Printed map, hand colored
Arthur Holzheimer Collection

The placard for this map says "At a time when the world was divided by religious conflicts, some mapmakers thought that it was important to portray a world unified by love and tolerance." I wrote a one-word response to this in my notes. It was a very rude word. I thought this to be an unconscionably modern interpretation - a useless viewing of the sixteenth century through a twentieth-century lens. Now I feel abashed at my hubris. I found this Chicago Sun Times article in which Robert Karrow Jr. expounds upon this view. Still dubious, I decided to look up Mr. Karrow's book, Mapmakers in the Sixteenth Century. I found many glowing reviews in JSTOR that expounded upon his meticulous research and his focus on the personal lives of the mapmakers. I also noticed that Mr. Karrow is the curator of maps at the Newberry Library and co-curator of this exhibit. Well, Mr. Karrow, if you're reading this, then I thank you for enlightening me, and I look forward to reading your book.

View of Venice
Jacobo de Barbari, Italian
Printed map
Newberry Library, Chicago (Franco Novacco Map Collection)

These are the most amazing woodcuts I've ever seen. Each of those six panels is the size of a large dinner tray, and each has a jaw-dropping fineness of detail. I cannot begin to imagine the skill and experience required to carve wood so intricately. As breathtaking as the detail, though, is the oblique perspective; it's a view of Venice which no human at the time could have had, and it's amazingly convincing. The symbolism is very fun; both Poseidon and the sea creature he rides through the harbor dwarf the nearby trading ships. Mercury befuddles me; he's holding what I think of as a symbol of medicine, and anyway, what does Mercury have to do with Venice? Then I find out from the placard that Mercury was the patron of commerce; is there anything of which Mercury wasn't a patron? Hmmm... Wikipedia makes his symbolism seem much less ambiguous than it is in my head. It also tells me that the winged and snake-bound staff in his hand is a caduceus, "an ancient astrological symbol of commerce".

The next day, in the Virtual Tourist in Renaissance Rome exhibit, I noticed a reference to Barbari. "In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Rome was changing, and mapmakers and publishers had to keep up. Techniques developed in response to expanding global travel and local administrative needs. In the fifteenth century the famous scholar Leon Battista Alberti provided a systematic and highly mathematical method for measuring the topography of Rome. No map by Alberti survives, but in 1500 Jacopo de Barbari produced a gorgeous (and accurate!) aerial map of Venice that had a major influence on later publishing."

I'm pleased to see that this one is from the Newberry Library, so I hope to see it again.

Plan of Rome
La Pianta Grande di Roma (The Great Plan of Rome)
Giambattista Nolli, Italian
Printed map
Vincent J. Buonanno Collection

This eighteenth-century tribute to the glories of both classical and contemporary Rome has a separate index print which identifies two thousand points of interest, including the Circus Maximus.

I made a separate entry on my investigation into this map's symbolism.

Buddhist temple complex in Japan
Saikoku zoho Koyasan saiken ezu (Detailed chart of Mt. Koya
in Saikoku)
Koei Asai, Japanese
Printed map
C.V. Starr East Asian Library, University of California, Berkeley

The curious thing about this one is the patches of color; there's something slightly irregular about them that says "woodcut" to me. I have a feeling that either wooden blocks were cut to shape, coated with pigment and pressed into the appropriate region on the map, or the coloring was swabbed on through stencils.

Nanchang, China and surrounding area
In Atlas of Jiangxi Province
Unidentified mapmaker, Chinese
18th century
Manuscript, ink and pigment on paper
The British Library, London

The use of color in this map is incredibly striking. Golden rays from an unseen setting sun paint vertical stripes down the sides of mountains that fade from a vivid turquoise blue at the tops down to a duller green that matches the color of the water. More of those rolling, fluid, snaky clouds, like I saw in the map of the road from Edo to Kyoto, undulate across the lowlands like marshmallow fluff oozing with uncertain intent across the countryside.

Bouillon, Belgium
Unidentified mapmaker, French
Plaster, paint, and wood
Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Paris

This is an amazing diorama, or at least what I think of as a diorama, though it's much more elaborate than anything I've seen in a museum. Military planners under Louis XIV used it during the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697).

Nautical chart of the Atlantic Ocean
Zuane Pizzigano, Venetian
Manuscript, ink on parchment
James Ford Bell Library Collection, University of Minnesota

The placard says that this is the oldest surviving chart of the Atlantic, which is a pretty darned exciting thing to see. It also points out the vaguely-drawn islands in the west that could have been fables, or could indicate voyages to the Americas before Columbus. Explore the page linked above for much more detail on that story.

Indian ocean
From the “Miller Atlas”
Lopo Homem, Pedro Reinel, and Jorge Reinel, Portuguese
circa 1519
Manuscript, ink and pigment on parchment
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Near the bottom of this page you'll find a link to a very good zoomable image, and here's another with several decent images from the Miller Atlas, including the one in question.

I was very excited to see this because just the previous night I'd been studying the origins of the compass rose. I was interested to learn that the fleur-de-lis grew out of the initial T in Tremontana, a classical name for a northern wind. I also found out that Pedro and Jorge Reinel, in their "Miller Atlas", were the first to use that fleur, so of course that was the first thing I looked for. The north arrow in this particular map is bigger, and unlike the others it radiates from the middle, but it's not a fleur-de-lis.

I quickly noticed several major differences between this map and later maps of the sixteenth century. First of all, it's highly pictorial; the Reinels populated their terrain with exotic creatures, castles, and peoples more or less fantastical. Here stands a Yemeni warrior with shield at the ready, there a rider on horseback charges into battle. Camels, rhinos, lions, elephants, and birds of flaming red draw my eye. Secondly, this is not a map for coastal navigation; even the west coast of India, which has more detail than any of the other coastlines, is relatively sparse. Thirdly, there are none of the expected sea monsters, which I find particularly notable given the preponderance of land creatures. Adding all this up, I get the impression that the Reinels' target audience were landlubbers who wanted to thrill at, and perhaps impress their guests with, images of far-off and exotic lands; this map certainly wasn't made with mariners in mind.

Nile Delta and Cairo
Kitab-i Bahriye (Book of Maritime Matters)
Piri Reis, Turkish
17th century
Manuscript, ink, paint and gold on paper
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.658

The placard says that Admiral Piri Reis made these both as documents and as practical manuals: "...the atlas described and help control..." Does that mean that the Caliph used it as a reference for planning, enforcement, and tax collection? Further investigation is warranted.

In these two maps I see the pyramids after which Napoleon's Battle of the Pyramids were named, palm trees, square-rigged galleys, and a lateen-rigged three-masted ship. The particularly interesting thing is the trio of high, sinusoidal hills: one green, one red, and one blue! You can see them in this e-card from the Field Museum website. Do the colors signify anything, or are they simply meant to draw the eye?

The islands of Nisyros and Kos
In Liber Insularum Archipelagi (Atlas of Aegean islands)
Christoforo Buondelmonte, Italian
circa 1450
Manuscript, ink and pigment on parchment
Kenneth and Jocelyn Nebenzahl

The placard tells me that Kos is the birthplace of Hippocrates, and I get that familiar, frustrating feeling that the name should mean something to me. Sigh. I guess it's Wiki time again. Ah, of course. Hippocrates, as in Hippocratic Oath. I learned about him in the Teaching Company lectures about the history of medicine.

Here are those exaggerated points again! I can't find an image of these particular maps, but this page has another Buondelmonte (or Buondelmonti) map that shows what I mean. See how the coastline is composed entirely of sharply-intersecting arcs, as though a celestial hand carved it with gigantic cookie-cutters? This isn't just different from the way we're used to seeing it today; it's different from the way in which many of Buondelmonte's contemporaries drew their coasts. I'm particularly attuned to such differences because the story of the Spanish Armada was my doorway into the love of history; since coastal navigation was integral to that story, the different renditions of coastlines have leapt out at me since I attended the maps exhibit at the Oriental Institute in Chicago. As a neophyte, all I can do is speculate: Did the cartographers think the coasts actually looked like this from above or, as seems more likely to me, did they intentionally exaggerate bays and promontories because they were so important to coastal navigation? I think I've seen this style more often in maps from the east, so I'm wondering if it represents a particularly Islamic influence; then again, al-Idrisi's maps don't seem to display it.

From Relaciones Geograficas (Geographical Reports)
Unidentified mapmaker, Mixtec (Mexico)
Manuscript, pigment on paper
Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin

This map dates from sixty years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. Unfamiliar with this culture as I am, I find the iconography fascinating; everything in this map is a pictorial symbol! Particularly interesting is the representation of the Amoltepec, the hill of the (agave-like) soap plant. Page 160 of The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geograficas has a good drawing of this symbol. Does the top of the "boot" represent a hill, or am I reading the symbol wrong?

View of Amsterdam
Jan Christaenszoon Micker, Dutch
circa 1644
Oil on canvas
Amsterdams Historisch Museum

This Field Museum e-card has a description of Micker's painting, along with the best image I could find. It does not, of course, convey the sense one gets when standing in front of it. The shadows are vividly lifelike, cleverly implying the presence of unseen clouds over my head, draw me into this almost photographic scene in which sunlight softly reflects off the masonry of the burgeoning town. Micker mixed styles unusually and quite playfully, creating a very engaging combination of painting and map. See how the cartouche on the bottom right casts a shadow on the water, as though it were actually a part of the landscape? Now, look closely at the very top middle. See the small reddish blotches? Thanks to Jaap, I know that's the coat of arms of Amsterdam: three white crosses on a black bar in a red shield. It is flanked by two lions of the style usually found on a cartouche, who also cast shadows as they stand quite literally upon the fields, dwarfing the local farmhouses. That brain-bending feeling I get when the external reference frame suddenly links to something inside the fourth wall reminds me of the way the Road Runner was able to run into Wile E. Coyote's painting of the mountain. The more I'm exposed to history, the more I think post-modernism ain't so modern.

I was telling Jaap, an exceedingly knowledgeable Amsterdam tour guide, about this painting, and he sent me the following in response. I've linked to the pictures of which he speaks.

I have attached two pictures, both by master Cornelis Anthonisz (1505-1553) and known as the oldest 'maps' or views of Amsterdam. The oil painting was made in 1538 commission for the burgomasters of Amsterdam. The print he made in 1544 as a commercial spin-off for sale in the market. The canvas is in the Amsterdam Historical Museum. Some prints are in museums worldwide and some years ago one was auctioned at something like €uro 40,000.

One look at the works of Cornelis Anthonisz will convince you that Micken must have seen either or both and has been strongly inspired by them. IMHO somebody has commissioned him to make a copy of the canvas.

Inclesmoor, Yorkshire
Unidentified mapmaker, English
circa 1450
Manuscript, ink and pigment on parchment
The National Archives, UK

UPDATE: The Walters Museum posted a beautiful image of this map!

This map of 1450 resulted from a property dispute that happened in 1402 between the Duchy of Lancaster and Saint Mary's Abbey. Each claimed rights to this desirable 240 square mile plot composed of pasture-land and the peat that was used as fuel.

I believe that the image on this page shows a portion of the map in question. Note the strikingly bold and flamboyant mix of black and red lettering. Another eye-catching aspect of this map that you can't see on that image is the split orientation: the word "South" appears upright near the bottom, and the word "North" appears upside upside-down on the top. Was this map meant to be set on a table between two disputants, each of whom would have an upright "North" or "South" on the end closest to him?

Yu Ji Tu (Places Visited by Emperor Yu)
Unidentified mapmaker, Chinese
19th century (?) print of carving made in 1136
Printed map
The Field Museum, Chicago, 2321.245523

Well, this is interesting: a map made from a seven hundred year old stone carving! The placard says that the map is highly accurate; that each square represents 100 li, or about 30 miles, on a side; and that this is one of the oldest surviving maps to use a uniform scale to depict such a large area. The lines are very smooth, the grid and the script precise and delicate. There's something highly authentic about the way the rivers meander and taper, as though this could have been traced from a satellite photo instead of carved out of stone in 1136.

Carte de France (Map of France)
César François Cassini, French
18th century
Printed map
Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

These four maps of Normandy, Paris, Bois, and Toulon kept drawing me back like an iron filing to a magnet. The Mercator projection, the Waghenaer coastal map, and the Ptolemy Geographia filled me with awe at being in the presence of such potent bits of history. This one, however, beats them all in its almost unbelievable level of detail; I could lose myself in it for days. In order to fully appreciate that detail I had to take my glasses off, place my nose an inch or two from the glass, and let my nearsightedness work to my advantage. Minutiae that had before gone unnoticed then leapt out at me, such as the tiny windmill here, near St. Etienne. To get an even better sense of the level of thorough detail of this map, see this field of windmills in Moulins - which, Grace tells me, means "windmill". The printing is exquisite: fonts of all different sizes are represented, some words are italicized, and some form smooth arcs that fit snugly around the noted feature.

!!! Oh my gosh! It just clicked: the sheets on display here represent only a small fraction of Cassini's "Carte de France". Wikipedia has this to say:
In the 1670s, Cassini began work on a project to create a topographic map of France, using Reiner Gemma Frisius's technique of triangulation. The project was continued by his son Jacques Cassini and eventually finished by his grandson Cassini de Thury[César François Cassini] and published as the Carte de Cassini in 1789 or 1793. It was the first topographic map of an entire country.

Here are three links borrowed from this Harvard University site.

Celestial and terrestrial globes
Vicenzo Maria Coronelli, Italian
Ink on paper, plaster, brass, and oak
Private Collection

UPDATE: The Walters Museum posted a beautiful image of the celestial globe!

Greaves & Thomas, a company based on the Isle of Wight, makes these replicas that will give you an excellent idea of how imposing these massive globes are. Guy gets impressed by these suckers, he knows he's been impressed, by gosh. Words like "lavish" and "sumptuous" come to mind as my eye roves over the polished three hundred year old oak, the brass meridian and the meticulously printed and plastered gores that showed some very, very rich folk ocean currents, habitats, constellations, and contours of far-off continents.

A few things caught my eye during the short time I had before the van den Keere double hemisphere projection drew me into its event horizon. I see IL MARE DI CALIFORNIA in the obvious place. There is a MARE DI CANADA near northern Canada and a MARE DELLA NUOVA FRANCIA near New England, with a MARE DEL NORT in between and a MARE ATLANTICO, in much smaller print, off to the east! In between the Caribbean and Mexico is ARCIPELAGO DEL MEXICO. Up until just moments ago I thought that OCCIDENTALE meant "equator", because that's where it appears on the globe. Google made me remember that Occidental means "west". That label wasn't for the equator, but for the western part of the world, i.e. Europe and the New World.

Double hemisphere projection
Nova totius orbis mappa ex optimus auctoribus desumta (New Map
of the Whole Earth Drawn from the Best Authorities)
Pieter van den Keere, Dutch
Printed Map
Sutro Library (California State Library), San Francisco

I was awestruck before the Ptolemy atlas on loan from the Vatican and the Waghenaer coastal atlas. I was mesmerized by the four sections of the Cassini Carte de France, lost in their near bottomless depth of detail. This one, however, fascinated me the most. It fascinated me so much that I've killed another bloody day researching a single item in this exhibit. This gets a separate entry.

Buddhist world map
Nanzenbushu bankoku shoka no zu (All the Countries in Jambudvipa)
Shoshun (Hotan), Japanese
Printed map
C.V. Starr East Asian Library, University of California, Berkeley

This map includes geographical knowledge that was new at the time of Europe and Japan. Mount Meru, the center of all physical and spiritual universes in Buddhist cosmology, appears in a mystical-looking swirl at its center. The swirl turns out to be the sacred rivers of India flowing from the Himilayas.

In order to see a truly excellent zoomable image from the David Rumsey collection you have to jump through a few easy hoops. It's worth it. Go here and click on the "insight Browser" link. If your browser disallows the popups, set it to allow popups from that site. Once you're in the Japanese Historical Maps section, click "search" and click "by keywords". Type the word Nanzenbushu in the box and click "submit". You should see two items. Double-click the black-and-white one. Now you should have the viewer open. Pan and zoom to your heart's content.

If you have problems with any of that, here is a decent image. This article has a closeup of the mystical Mount Meru, complete with the animals whose mouths are disgorging the source of the four great rivers of India in the Himilayas.

Buddhist cosmology map
Trai phum (Story of Three Worlds)
Unidentified mapmaker, Thai
Pigment on bark paper
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst

Here is a fascinating account of the Traiphum in Early Mapping of Southeast Asia by Thomas Suárez. Scroll down to see some good illustrations.

The placard says that the one hundred foot long map depicts three worlds: sensual desire (the realm of men and various hells); the world of the Brahma; and the realm of infinite space and mental processes. The worlds are stacked along Mount Meru. The map, compiled from thirty Buddhist sources, depicts the life of Buddha and the geography of Southeast Asia.

Medieval Christian world map
In Etymologiae (First Things)
Isidore of Seville, Spanish
1448 interpretation of original drawn circa 600
Manuscript, pigment on parchment
The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.422

In the seventh century Isidore of Seville compiled his encyclopedia of all learning both ancient and modern, the Etymologiae. Its popularity continued through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, as can be seen by this manuscript of 1448. The drawing here has the typical ring of ocean surrounding a circle that is divided by a T-shaped Mediterranean. Each of the three landmasses had been assigned to the sons of Noah: Asia, on top, went to Shem; Europe, on the bottom left, went to Japhet; and Africa, on the bottom right, went to Ham. It looks crude to the modern eye, but this Wikipedia page on the T-O map gives a good account of the pitfalls of assuming that early scholars, who had little if any ability to draw a sphere, thought the world was round; the diagram was meant to depict only the top half of a spherical earth.

Medieval Islamic world map
From Nuzhat al-mushtaq (The book of pleasant journeys)
Muhammad al-Idrisi, b.Ceuta (now Morocco)
1553 interpretation of original drawn circa 1135
Manuscript, ink and pigment on parchment
The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
MS. Pococke 375, fols. 3-4

It takes me a minute to get my brain around this map, partly because south is on the top and partly because it represents a nascent stage of world geographical knowledge. The placard points out one of its flaws: a major connection between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. I went around to the side of the exhibit case and peered at it from as close to an upside-down perspective as I could, and wrote in my notes "Boy, is Europe messed up! Very crude." This goes to show the vast amounts of knowledge and learning that had to be distilled over the centuries to give us the geographical knowledge we take for granted; this Wikipedia page, which also has a good image of this map, tells how al-Idrisi worked on his illustrations and commentaries for eighteen years, and how influential they were in the centuries to come. The following is from Peter Whitfield's Image of the World.
After the ferocious conquests with which Islam emerged onto the world stage, in the calm which followed, the caliphate courts became centres of precocious cultural activity. Early medieval Europe had nothing to compare with the scientific and literary achievements of the Abbasid court in Baghdad in the eighth and ninth centuries A.D. Arab geographers translated Ptolemy's Geography before the end of the ninth century, compiled their own co-ordinated gazetteers of the world, and were open also to influences from the east, from Persia, India and even China. Against this background it should not be surprising that of all medieval geographers, the one whose work is most complete and coherent, and the one of whom we have most knowledge, is not a western Christian, but an Arab. Al-Idrisi was of a royal family, born in Morocco c.1100 A.D. and travelled extensively in Europe and North Africa. About the year 1140 he entered the service of the Norman King of Sicily, Roger II. Sicily was then a meeting-place of cultures, and Roger's court one of the most diverse and intellectual in Europe. Idrisi's appointed task was to draw up a comprehensive map of the world with a full descriptive commentary, and this he achieved, completing after some fifteen years' research The Book of Pleasant Journeys to Faraway Lands commonly known as The Book of Roger. At its heart lay a group of seventy regional maps, conceived and drawn separately, but forming when assembled the most detailed world map of its time.

World map
In Geographia
Claudius Ptolemy, Greek
15th century
Manuscript, ink and pigment on parchment
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City, Urb. lat 275

I stood before a sight much like this one gaping, thunderstruck with the weight of history within arm's length. Of course it helped that, just the night before, I'd read about Ptolemy for the first time in Peter Whitfield's Image of the World, and was full of curiosity over how Ptolemy's knowledge could have been largely unknown in Europe for well over a millennium, and yet still form the basis of Renaissance cartography. That night also I first heard the name al-Idrisi, so I had only the vaguest notion of how Ptolemy's data wended its way through the pens of eastern scribes and eventually back onto the pages that were destined for the Vatican, and briefly for the glass case before me. There are a lot of exclamation points on that page of my steno book. The gold border that blazed even under the dim exhibit lights caught my eye immediately, but it wasn't until I came back to look at those pages for a third time that I noticed the delicate, swirling etchings on that thin layer. I also noticed that the map displays only twelve winds, a Roman convention that I had also read about just the previous evening.

What are those thick, perfectly straight red lines that run neither north nor south, e.g. the one that starts on the west coast of Africa and runs east by southeast all the way to the east coast?

The southern sea is labeled "MARE PRASODVM", and I wondered what that meant. A bit of creative Googling has taught me that prason is Latin for "leek", that kelp was known as sea-leek, and that prasodum is the genitive plural of prason. Sigh. Now I need to know what genitive means. Ah. It's the case that marks a noun as modifying another noun. Right. So MARE PRASODVM means "Kelp Sea".

Stick chart
Unidentified mapmaker, Marshallese (Republic of the Marshall Islands)
Wood and twine
The Field Museum, Chicago

Judging from all the pictures I saw of it in articles about the exhibit, this one really seems to have caught visitors' imaginations. It's an assemblage of sticks lashed together in a configuration that represents the patterns and directions of ocean swells between Majuro and the Jaluit Atolls. Each stick is a swell, in some cases reflecting off one or more islands. For an image of this stick chart, along with some explanatory text, scroll down to the third item on this page. For a detailed explanation of stick chart design and function, go here.

Part of Greenland coast and islands
Kunit fra Umivik, Inuit (Greenland)
Greenland National Museum and Archives, Nuuk

UPDATE: The Walters Museum posted a beautiful image of this map!

This one was fascinating to me in a very personal way, since I've spent so much time in a canoe with my friend Jeff attempting to divine our position: look at the shoreline; attempt to translate my view from the canoe into a bird's-eye view; superimpose that image in my mind's eye onto the map in our hands; put my head together with Jeff's and decide which way to go; and, occasionally, swear a whole lot when we figure out just how far off we were in our divinations. I feel - if not a faint kinship with, then at least an understanding of the motivations of - the Inuit who carved this block of wood so that its edges depicted part of the Greenland coast.

Unable to take pictures, and wanting to have some record of this fascinating map, I began drawing it. Immediately my profound inability to estimate margins reared its ugly head, and my drawing ended up superimposed on a scribbled-out first attempt at the Marshall Islands map. I made a tracing of my original, and that's what you'll see if you follow the link above. The caption describes how to read the map.

Road network of Japan during the Edo period
Nihon kaisan chorikuzu zu (Map of the Seas and Islands of Japan)
Ishikawa Ryusen, Japanese
Printed map, hand colored
C.V. Starr East Asian Library, University of California, Berkeley

From the placard: This wood block map showed the territories of powerful warlords, or daimyo, at a time when relations between them had stabilized. It fostered a sense of Japanese national identity by allowing and inspiring the people to travel.

I don't see any impressions from the blocks, as I could in other woodblock pressings, nor can I see any of those telltale faint strips that indicate breaks between the blocks. Can this possibly have been a single, gigantic wood block?

French aeronautical chart and holder
Service des Fabrications Aéronautiques, French
circa 1914
Printed map, aluminum
Ralph E. Ehrenberg Collection

This is a glass-fronted aluminum box roughly the size of a large photo album. Two aluminum dials stick out of either end of the front, and connect to rollers that run along the length of the interior and connect in turn to matching dials on the back. The map unscrolls along the inside of the glass at the turn of a dial, thus allowing a pilot to read a map without taking his hands off the controls.

Segment of Portugal’s coastline
In Du miroir de la navigation (The Mirror of Navigation)
Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, Dutch
Printed map
Courtesy of Harvard Map Collection, Harvard College Library

A Waghenaer from 1590. A Waghenaer... from 1590! A WAGHENAER FROM 1590!!! Gosh, seeing this was exciting for me. This definitely deserves a separate entry.

Gough Map
Unidentified mapmaker, English
Manuscript, ink and pigment on parchment
The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

The placard says that this map, showing six hundred settlements and two hundred rivers, was made for merchants, and possibly reflected imperial aspirations to expand into Wales and Scotland. Wikipedia has a very interesting summary of the map's mysteries, along with its many distinctions: with its inclusion of roads and their lengths, its level of geographical accuracy that would not be exceeded until the sixteenth century, and its lack of theological content, it represents a heady bundle of "firsts". Check out this fantastic map viewer, which allows you to select specific layers such as roads, rivers and lakes.

The Americas
Americae sive quartae orbis parties nova et exactissima descriptio
(America, The Fourth Part of the World Newly and Exactly
Diego Gutiérrez, Spanish
Printed map
Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Ian Albert has an amazing map viewer that lets you easily pan and zoom through this map with as much detail as you could want. Zoom in on the left edge and see one of the earliest cartographic references to California. Note the bold hatching and cross-hatching that so captivated me as I stood before it, marveling at the almost palpable texture of the waves that reminded me of Bernie Wrightson's art in Swamp Thing. Look at the dramatic sea battle going on in the southern Atlantic: is that an Ottoman galley - in the south Atlantic??? In any event, between seaborne menaces, sea monsters, and waves that would look dangerous even without the prominent shipwrecks, this map was clearly designed to make Spanish sailors look very brave! For an excellent synopsis of the political atmosphere in which this map was produced, go here.

Here is the Library of Congress page, which has a viewer that may be better for slow connections.

Belcher Islands, Canada
Wetalltok, Inuit (Canada)
circa 1909
Manuscript, graphite on paper
The American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In 1909 an Inuit named Wetalltok drew a map of the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay. The map, based on Wetalltok's experiences in kayaking the three thousand square mile area, was quite precise; it was displayed next to a satellite map of the same area, and although an overall similarity didn't leap out at me, once I studied the details I was quite impressed with the correspondences. This page has an image of the sketch.

World map showing the Americas
Francesco Rosselli, Italian
Printed map
Arthur Holzheimer Collection

A product of a period of uncertainty and discovery in cartography, Roselli's map shows North America as an extension of Asia, and South America as a separate continent. Contrast this with the revolutionary Waldseemüller world map; published in the previous year, it nonetheless shows North America as separate from Asia.

Gulf of Mexico
Mapa de las costas de Tierra Firme descubiertas por Juan Ponce, Francisco Garay, Diego Velazquez y otros (Map of the Terra Firma Coasts Discovered by Juan Ponce, Francisco Garay, Diego Velazquez and Others)
Alonso Álvarez de Piñeda, Spanish
Manuscript, ink on paper
Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, MP-MEXICO, 5

This is the first known drawing of the entire Gulf of Mexico. See the Wikipedia article for information on Pineda and his expedition, and an image of the sketch.

Central Italy
Leonardo da Vinci, Italian
circa 1502
Manuscript, chalk and pigment on paper
Lent by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

In this map, Leonardo da Vinci used shades of color instead of cone-shaped symbols to depict terrain. The Field Museum has a sample image with summary.

Early New France
Descripsion des costs, pts., rades, illes de la nouvelle france
(Description of the Coasts, Ports, Roads, Islands of New France)
Samuel de Champlain, French
Manuscript, ink and watercolor on parchment
Geography & Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Boy, this exhibit is just chock full of maps from historical flash points. Champlain made this map of "New France" in 1607, the same year in which the English founded Jamestown!

The Low Countries
Germania Inferior (Lower Germany)
Jodocus Hondius, Hugo Allard, Dutch
circa 1595, reprinted 1671
Printed map

Hey! It's the map on the wall in "Young Woman With a Water Pitcher", the Vermeer painting I saw at the Age of Rembrandt exhibit at the Met in December! Well this is just... neat! Unfortunately I can't find an online image.

Sir Francis Drake’s world circumnavigation
Michael Mercator, German
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven

By the time I got this far into the exhibit, I was so overwhelmed that I very nearly walked right by this "silver map". I saw it, stopped, gaped, scribbled three stars and a description in my notes, and then spent some time trying different angles from which to better view the fine engraving. There's something about standing mere inches from this tarnished silver medallion that makes history come alive in the most palpable sense.

The Library of Congress has an online Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room with a wealth of information and images pertaining to Drake's life. This page tells of the circumnavigation; click on the images of the medallions down near the bottom of the page, and you'll get a view just as good as I had at exhibit.

Chronometer used by Captain Cook
Larcum Kendall, British
Metal and glass
MOD Art Collection, London

Another exciting find! Since I had just read the book about the Bounty mutiny, I was excited to be in the presence of the chronometer used by the captain - even if it wasn't the one used during that ill-fated breadfruit expedition. Just now, when I got around to writing up this bit of my visit, I became extremely embarrassed. I had mixed up Bligh, commander of the Bounty, with Captain Cook, the man who had appointed him to his position. I can only plead brain deadness after an eight hour barrage of priceless historical artifacts. And, as it turns out, I wasn't wrong to think that Bligh held this chronometer! I see that Cook selected Bligh as his Sailing Master on the Resolution during his third voyage, so Bligh would certainly have used it.

Mediterranean sea chart
Carte pisane (Chart from Pisa)
Unidentified cartographer, Italian
circa 1290
Manuscript, ink on parchment
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Another breathtaking "first" of sorts, this is the oldest surviving portolan chart! Here is the best image I could find. Note the two sets of sixteen-point rhumb lines, and the grid formed by the lines drawn from the points of intersection between the rhumb lines and the circle drawn around the center. I don't know enough cartography yet to understand the significance of this, but it's something I'll be looking out for as I read.

Magnetic compass
Iver Jensen, Danish
18th century
Rosewood, ink, and paper
Courtesy of Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Chicago

Sometime in the thirteenth century, the knowledge of how to satisfactorily mount a needle to make a magnetic compass became widespread; mariners knew which way was north, and portolan charts like the one above, with their rhumb lines based on the use of the compass, followed soon after. This particular compass was made much later, during a century when two new cartographic milestones were set: with the perfection of the sextant and the chronometer, mariners could also know their latitude and longitude. To look at the colored paper disc inside this small rosewood box is to see history being built upon history.

But that's not the story.

The story is that I couldn't think of a blasted thing to write in my journal as I stood in front of this old compass. The only reason I spent any time at all with it was because I had a vague sense that I should. Why did this icon of navigation fail to excite my imagination? Perhaps it's because I've used compasses since I was a small boy, and familiarity breeds contempt. That doesn't seem right, though, because I've used maps for a long time too. Is it simply because I'm here to see maps, not compasses? Well, the Cook chronometer excited me plenty, and that's not a map, although it must be said that I had just read of the Bounty mutiny, and there's nothing like a good story to make history come alive. Anyway, none of these attempts to explain my apathy ring true. I think the real reason for it is simply that I have a fascination not with the magic of floating needles, but with the magic of floating reference frames - in other words, maps. Maps assist with something that my brain doesn't do well: conceptualization of and navigation within three-dimensional space. This is the closest I can come to explaining the obsession that drew me to, and through, this superlative exhibit.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

Fantastic picture of a flying turtle on the wall. Children usually like fantasy, but this particular monster by Max Ernst may prove too scary, . But there are other more suitable pictures for children in western art that can be browsed at, from where the images can be ordered as canvas prints and sent anywhere in the world